Alison, a young, single Manhattan retail buyer, first met Linda seven years ago, when both answered the same classified ad for a Fire Island share. Since then, they’ve been returning to Seaside Harbor every summer weekend.
But one night, after leaving Crane’s, a famed singles bar, Linda is found murdered, and Alison starts to realize how little she really knows about her housemate. Is the killer a spurned suitor? What about the mysterious lover back in the city Linda had spoken of—but whom Alison has never met?
Meanwhile, Long Island police officer Joe DiGregorio has been assigned to work undercover on the case, posing as a yuppie accountant. Together, Joe and Alison—who is unaware of Joe’s real identity—are about to unravel Linda’s many secrets . . .
“With refreshing insight, Margolis conveys the intensity and the crass materialism that are the hallmarks of a certain breed of young professionals.” —Publishers Weekly
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Crane's is about motion, about never stopping long enough for a conversation to ignite. Crane's is about talking to as many people in as short a time as possible. Crane's is about drinking. Crane's is about music playing so loud you feel it as much as you hear it. Crane's is about dancing. Crane's is about deep tans and incandescent burns; the sun's heat escaping from bodies as they move around adds a charged dimension to the place, a glow. Crane's is about crowds that make meeting people not merely a possibility, but unavoidable. Which is just as well, because more than anything else, Crane's is about sex.
Caught up in the Friday-night swirl of Crane's were Alison Rosen and Linda Levinson. Saturdays might be more crowded at Crane's, but there was an air of hysteria on Friday nights that generally subsided by Saturday, baked out by the hot summer sun. The sense of release, of sudden unwinding, was almost audible. Alison and Linda drifted from one end of Crane's to the other, from the packed terrace overlooking the bay to the packed bar area to the packed dance floor, where they swayed abstractedly to some unfamiliar music with a strong beat. Two guys moved in on them, assuming the invitation. Alison and Linda looked them over and retreated to the bar.
"Another weekend on Fire Island," said Linda after they'd gotten their drinks. She twirled her finger listlessly in the air. "Hip hip hooray."
"You're a lot of fun," said Alison, surveying this section of Crane's with bird-furtive eyes that matched her hair: brown with gold highlights. Her neck was long and graceful, and at thirty-two her skin retained a youthful, fragile quality. A hint of freckles covered her thin nose, so perfectly straight she was sometimes asked if she'd had it fixed (she hadn't). She was tall, with a figure maintained by constant dieting and daily exercise. Her friend, even taller, with long, glossy black hair and an angular, sultry face that looked like a perfectly realized photograph of itself, made a more striking first impression. Alison was not unaware of this fact — how could she be in Crane's, which was all about first impressions? — but Alison projected a quality of intelligence and complexity that, while it may have done her little good in Crane's, made her appearance in the long run the more rewarding. Problem was, she was having a hard time lately finding men willing to stick around for the long run.
"Sorry," said Linda. "I'll pick up once this drink takes effect. Still, don't you ever think you'd rather spend the weekend in your apartment, pull down the shades, turn up the air conditioner, pretend it's not summer, forget that you're supposed to be out having a good time?"
"When I do that I also consume large quantities of Moo Shu Pork and Häagen Dazs, which is one reason I always manage to make it out here weekends. Anyway, what's up? Sounds like you had a shitty week."
"Actually it was a difficult week, but a good one, in a way. I mean, I made some decisions I feel good about. Long-overdue decisions."
"Don't tell me. You're going to look for a new job?" Alison's voice perked up.
"Not really. These decisions are more important."
Alison rolled her eyes and took a sip from her gin and tonic. "More important than your career? You hate your job — you've been saying so for years."
"Maybe it isn't as bad as you think. Besides, I don't have a career. What should I do, join the Bloomingdale's training program? You were twenty-two when you did that. I'm thirty-two — a little old for that kind of thing."
Alison shrugged. She was fond of Linda, but felt that her friend sometimes held back on her, and that this prevented them from being truly intimate. Though they saw each other occasionally during the winter, it was on Fire Island that they were together most often.
She'd met Linda seven years ago when they'd shared their first house on Fire Island. They'd both answered the same ad in the Village Voice. Linda was in many ways still a mystery, however. She had a dreary job at a law firm but made no effort to leave it. She took a share every summer in Seaside Harbor, yet never tried to meet men, which in Alison's opinion was the real reason most women their age went to Fire Island. That and the beach.
"I don't understand you, Linda. Why bother coming out here if you're not going to try to meet people?"
"Meet people. You mean meet men."
"Of course I mean men! I just gave you a twenty-minute blow-by-blow on my social life — no pun intended — and all you do is stand there and dole out advice. What about you?"
"Look at all the good your social life has done you." It stung, but Alison chose to ignore this rare display of defensiveness. "I said, are you seeing anyone?" Other than The Nowhere Man, Alison continued to herself, which is how she thought of Linda's unnamed, unseen, and undiscussed boyfriend. Linda had only mentioned two things about The Nowhere Man: he was married, more or less permanently, and he was nuts about keeping their relationship a secret from everyone, including Linda's friends.
"You'd be the first to know."
Somehow Alison doubted this. She trusted Linda, but there was another dimension to her that Alison simply couldn't fathom. Linda rarely mentioned her lover directly ("We went to the movies on Tuesday," she'd say, or "We had Chinese food in bed last night"), and something about Linda, a skittishness, prevented Alison from inquiring further. ("What's his name, at least?" Alison had once asked; "What difference does it make?" Linda had answered quickly, with a logic that was irrefutable, if maddening.) It clearly wasn't a relationship that made Linda very happy — how could it, when it relegated her to being a single person every weekend? — yet she seemed incapable of breaking away.
"Well, if it isn't Gloom and Doom."
As an opening line this left much to be desired, but it did serve as a kind of mirror, offering Alison a glimpse of herself and Linda, standing at the bar looking sullen and unapproachable. Chilled by this vision, she made a conscious effort to defrost. "You're Eric Farber, right?" she said brightly. "I knew I knew you. So go ahead, cheer us up."
"What'll it be, a threesome on the dance floor?"
"No thanks," said Linda quickly.
"Linda, you've met Eric Farber, right?"
"We go way back, don't we, Linda?" he said.
"Come on, Alison, let's check out the terrace."
Alison looked at Linda, then at Farber. "Well, Gloom would like to dance, even if Doom wouldn't." She took Farber's hand and led him to the dance floor.
Farber was the type of outrageously handsome man for whom Alison could never work up much attraction. He looked unreal, with the chiseled, bruised face of a male model. Still, he danced well, if unenthusiastically; Alison sensed he wasn't really interested in her, and when the song ended he thanked her stiffly — none of his earlier smoothness evident now — and disappeared.
"What was going on between you two?" she asked Linda, who hadn't budged from the bar.
"He's a creep."
An intriguing notion occurred to her: could Eric Farber be The Nowhere Man? He's not married, and surely there'd be no reason to sneak around, but even so ... "I couldn't believe how cold you acted to him, Linda. He's not that bad a —"
"He's a creep, period. End of discussion."
If Linda were homely or boring, Alison might have had less trouble accepting her inability to break away from The Nowhere Man, her almost total unwillingness to venture beyond the apparent safety of her weekday romance. Sure, she had occasional one-night stands — God knows she had no trouble recruiting volunteers — but one night, or, more accurately, two or three hours, was as far as she went. She was extraordinarily sexy and also quite pretty, though men always seemed to use words like "knock-out" and "dynamite" rather than "pretty" in reference to Linda. And she had a friendly, generous personality, a fact, Alison knew, that was obvious to very few people, none of them men. What really baffled Alison was that Linda, who never made the slightest attempt to meet or hold onto a man (apart, of course, from her married friend), dressed in an undeniably feminine, sexy manner. As if her only aim was to attract men. Tight pants, sheer blouses, bathing suits that made jaws drop on a beach littered with beautiful female bodies. Linda's office clothes were no different — skirts slit high on the thigh, knitted dresses that clung to her for dear life, blouses always opened one button too many. She was tall and slender, wore her black hair long and perfectly straight. Her face was narrow, but her eyes, greenish brown, were large, almost too large for her head.
The whole look said, Notice me, I'm available. At least that's how Alison saw her. Yet her whole personality said, Don't bother.
"Linda." Alison nudged her friend, who was reading the labels on the bottles behind the bar with Talmudic intensity. "Look. There's that Rob guy from last weekend."
"You remember, the guy you were with last week."
"Oh yeah, him. That was nothing, an anatomical event. Or nonevent."
"Rob What's-his-name was a washout. He came on so strong, here I figured he'd be good for half the night. Boy, was I wrong. I wouldn't have cared except he kept begging for a second chance. Lucky for you you weren't around. I think the whole house heard him. It was really pathetic."
"He's kind of cute, really," said Alison as she watched Rob, who stood in a noisy group, drinking a beer.
Linda appraised Rob from across the bar. "There was something sad about him. Lost. I didn't know how to make him feel better, though I knew another go at it wouldn't do either of us any good. He was too angry at that point ... "
Just then Rob turned and caught the two women watching him. He jerked his head away as if slapped, and stared resolutely at the woman who stood across from him.
"Poor guy," said Linda. "He was so hard on himself and I really was just as happy nothing happened. Wasn't really into it."
"Great. No wonder he had trouble."
"That's not fair. I acted enthusiastic. At least I think I did. He didn't exactly strike me as the type who cared what I was feeling anyway. And I didn't complain at all afterwards." A few minutes later Rob (neither Linda nor Alison knew his last name; he shared a house, however, with a friend of Alison's cousin Eleanor) glanced quickly toward them and once again caught Alison eying him, though Linda had already drifted back to her bottles. Alison flashed what she thought was an engaging, come-on-over smile, but Rob, looking a little fierce, as if he'd been attacked instead of smiled at, turned and disappeared into the crowd.
Oh God, thought Alison. He must know I know.
Out on the terrace they leaned against the railing and watched the boats bobbing in the harbor. The evening air was rich with salty sea-smells and the promise of fair weather. A ferry glided silently toward Seaside Harbor, both decks crowded with Friday-night refugees from the city.
"Hard to believe five hours ago we were still in New York, working," said Linda.
"I love it on Fire Island. It always feels like a vacation to me, even if it's just a weekend."
"What I like best is that there aren't any cars." Alison agreed: the absence of automobiles was as soothing as the salt air — it was somehow evident even above the blaring music from inside Crane's.
Alison felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Larry, from their house, and Jason, his roommate. Larry worked in his father's lingerie business; Jason was an accountant somewhere. They were both impossibly young — on the far side of twenty-four, Alison estimated — and not at all comfortable to be with. The first weekend of the summer Jason had jumped her in the living room. He was drunk, and she had had a tough time shaking him off, trying to be as gentle as possible — he was, after all, just a kid. Later that night he'd ambushed Linda, who'd sent him fleeing with a soft but firm "Get lost," a technique Alison made a point of remembering.
This year Linda and Alison had taken shares with people they didn't know. They'd found the house through an ad in the Voice, same way they'd met seven years ago. It was Alison's idea to branch out, meet new people. At thirty-two, she figured this would be her last summer in Seaside Harbor. Next season, she thought with a pessimism that she recognized as self-destructive but was unable to resist, it would be time to move on to a quieter, older community on Fire Island. Why not make the most of this last Seaside Harbor summer? Linda hadn't protested.
"How about a few lines for energy?" Larry offered, trying to sound casual; his shoulders, however, had begun to shrug uncontrollably. Alison and Linda looked at each other. Neither seemed anxious to make a decision: a little coke would certainly liven things up, but the price — indebtedness to Jason and Larry — seemed a bit steep.
The lingerie business must be booming, Alison thought as she and Linda, having finally made up their minds, followed the boys off the terrace. Larry seemed to have an unlimited supply of cocaine, and his generosity with the stuff was truly unusual. No skulking off to the bathroom for Larry: they estimated he went through close to two hundred dollars of coke a weekend.
At the door, Linda said she'd decided to head back to the house. She was tired — the cocaine would just keep her up.
"That's the whole point," said her friend.
"Honestly, Alison. See you all later."
"See you in the morning, Linda."
On a deserted dock they spooned half a dozen pinches of powder into their noses and tried without success to get a conversation going. Even the coke didn't help. Fifteen minutes later Alison shivered, said she felt a chill, and in no time they were back in Crane's, sniffling like three patients at an allergy clinic in the middle of pollen season.CHAPTER 2
It wasn't hard for Alison to lose her two housemates; it only took concentration to stick with someone in Crane's. Back in the swirl of Crane's at prime time, Alison happily succumbed to the flow as it carried her from one half-formed dialogue to another. She had the sensation of entering a theater after intermission, listening to conversations that made only partial sense to her but were nonetheless strangely compelling. Only standing still required real effort, and she was in no condition to expend any.
She found herself talking to a homely but, she concluded after a few minutes, oddly attractive guy who offered to buy her a drink. She accepted and he left for the bar, but she never saw him again that night. Perhaps he met someone else. Or maybe she had moved and he was unable to find her. She really couldn't remember.
The cocaine was working like a shot of adrenaline; she felt full of euphoric energy, as light and free as a helium balloon. One moment she was wandering aimlessly but contentedly through Crane's; a moment later, unable to recall how it had started, she found herself in the middle of a conversation with a really good-looking guy, and when he offered to buy her a drink she not only said yes, but made sure he could find her when he returned from the bar with her gin and tonic.
Five minutes later the conversation hadn't progressed beyond the "Which house are you in?" and "Who's in it?" phase, but Alison didn't really care; she just enjoyed looking at this man, who possessed precisely the looks she liked: tall, lean, dark, not too handsome but with a confident attitude. It had been some time since she'd flirted with a guy; it was nice to know all the parts still worked.
"Crane's is really crowded tonight," she said for lack of anything better. He didn't seem to care whether they talked or not. "I guess the hot weather brings people out here —"
"So, uh, you want to come back to my place?" he interrupted, with an impatient edge to his voice that implied she'd been babbling for some time. "My roommate's not here this weekend," he added with the matter-of-factness of a car salesman rattling off the standard features of a new sedan.
Alison was startled by this and couldn't hide it. Perhaps she'd heard him wrong. "We just met five minutes ago," she said, and then regretted it, for the statement seemed rather obvious, and elicited only a puzzled look from her companion. She was shocked almost in spite of herself — after three drinks and a few hours of conversation, such an invitation would not have been too unusual, might have been expected, even, but this was stretching it.
"Sorry I asked," he said a minute later, looking genuinely surprised, looking, Alison thought, as if she were the one who'd done something strange. "I just thought we were hitting it off."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "False Faces"
Copyright © 1991 Seth Margolis.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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